Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink.
Sometimes when you first get to hostels, especially larger ones, it can be overwhelming. Everyone else seems to already have their travel partners and their friends, everyone is speaking in different languages, and it can be really easy to sit in a hostel common room or kitchen with your nose down, listening to other people’s conversations wondering how to get involved, or even if your involvement would be welcome.
When this happens you have to remember this one key point:
When a person decides to stay in a hostel they normally have two motives: 1) Save money, and 2) Meet other travelers.
If you internalize that idea, then you, as a traveler already have the tools to begin meeting people, networking, and building friendships and relationships that may last for the next two hours, or may last for years to come. Just as much as you want to meet other travelers, they want to meet you. You have had life experience unique to their own, and have unique perspectives to their own, even if you are from the same country. People in general want to talk to you, so all you have to do is decide which person or people you want to talk to.
Step 1) Figure out your goals.
Why are you traveling and what are your own goals? Do you want to experience the international party scene, or are you more interested in experiencing day-to-day culture? Are you more interested in talking to locals, or other travelers? How long are you traveling? These goals are just guides that can change at any given time based on how you are feeling, or the atmosphere of the hostel.
Step 2) Sit down and start talking.
This is the hardest part, getting up the courage to start a conversation. You might chose to sit with a group of people that are already talking, which can be intimidating, but you will typically find that people won’t say “No, we don’t want you here.” I am personally a fan of finding someone who is simply sitting and having a cup of tea by themselves, or I will actively listen to a conversation until I have something to input. Sometimes you’ll discover that a group is already big enough or isn’t welcoming to another participant, or the individual mulling over a cup to tea would rather be within their own head than talk to you, and you simply have to accept that that is okay. Another great option is talking to the person running the hostel. Their job is to check in guests and tell them about the city, places to see and things to do, which is a great conversation starter, and can evolve into larger discussions about who a person is, where they come from, and what experiences they have had, and is an easy way to get other people involved in the conversation as well, which brings me to my next step:
Step 3) Involve others.
Once you have started a conversation with someone, whether you are hitting it off or not, it is easy to involve bystanders you might notice. With a simple “What have you found regarding [X experience we have been talking about]?” or “How does [X event] occur where you come from?” you not only come across as friendly, but you open up possibilities to new connections and welcome someone who may have been too shy to invite themselves into the conversation.
Step 4) Be flexible, and accepting.
This step or tip is the most important. Just like in normal life situations, you won’t get along with everyone, and not everyone wants the same thing. Though you early determined your overall goals, you must recognize that not everyone has the same goals. The most interesting thing about hostel friends is the realization that after today, you might never see them ever again – even if you become facebook friends – it remains a non-committal relationship. Though at first it can seem like hostel friends are more superficial, this also means that a sharing of international ideas and ideals can be much more open. Be ready for perspectives that are very different from your own, political, religious, and cultural, and unless someone is overtly offensive, be accepting that this exchange of ideas is part of the reason to travel. If you tend to be argumentative about your viewpoints at home, hold back a little and listen to what others have to say, tend more towards stating your viewpoints as the way you see the world, and be ready to explain, without necessarily trying to convince.
Every hostel experience is different, and every hostel is different. Remember that hostel life is ephemeral, as different people from different places come and go. As many different ideas and people there are in the United States, it’s tenfold while traveling to foreign countries. If you follow these steps, you will naturally find people you get along with and will build a friendship with whom you may spend two hours, you may go on an adventure or two, or you may remain in close contact with for years to come.
Post by Stephanie Hutson (CLAS ’12)
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